Mysterious Pine Plantations: Part 1

It took some time, but the mystery of the Red Pine "plantation" along the Hultman Aqueduct is no longer very mysterious. As is often the case, the truth about these pines is stranger (and more interesting) than a fictional explanation could ever be. The story behind the odd-looking row of trees running in the middle of town began centuries before the Quabbin and it's aqueduct were even imagined. (Since it is such a long story, this post is part 1 of 2 parts.)

Pine Plantation 4

Inspired by reader comments, I was determined to discover why those trees were planted, and by whom. I found a lot of information, but none of it seemed to fit together for quite a while. Things became really complicated when I realized these were not the only plantation trees in Framingham's forests.

aquaduct down

When I explored the shore of reservoir #3 at the bottom of "The Mountain" (where Bose is located), I was startled to see rows and rows of planted Eastern Red Cedar Trees. These trees were very tall, and had to be far older than the Hultman pines. Why would someone plant ornamental cedars in a place where no one would ever see them? Probably because cedars have massive root systems, which prevent soil erosion.

Planted Eastern Red Cedar? Arborvitae Hedge?

But there were also rows of Pines and Arborvitaes on The Mountain. The Arborvitaes were planted alongside what looked like an old path.

arborvitae the mountain

There are White Pines behind the Red Pines planted around the Foss Reservoir.

foss plantation too

There seems to be at least two distinct age groups among the pines planted around Reservoir #3. The trees along the paved path to the gatehouse appear older than the ones facing the water.

entrance to foss

Arborvitae lines both sides of the Bay Circuit Trail at the Sudbury Reservoir.

cedar path left

There are even planted pines around the area I christened "Reservoir Retreat" These trees are larger and older than the ones at the Foss.

reservoir ridge planted pines

Had ALL the forests of Framingham been planted?

All the forests around the reservoirs were definitely planted, as it turns out. The majority of forests in the town of Framingham probably contain planted trees, as do all the forests in eastern Massachusetts. Most of New England was stripped of trees long before they dammed the Sudbury River in the late 1800's.

saxonville 1882

There was precious little forest around Saxonville in 1882, for instance. Maybe a bit in the northwest corner of the picture, where steep slopes and lack of till made farming, grazing, and even logging difficult. Otherwise, the hills are virtually treeless for as far as you can see.

farm pond south framingham

Very little forest in the south of town, either. This is typical of New England in the late 1800's. The Harvard Forest Museum Dioramas (located in Petersham, Massachusetts), are incredible visual depictions of the changing forests through time.

"In the pre-settlement forest, natural variation across sites and ongoing natural and human disturbance processes led to differences in age, density, size, and species of trees across a wide range of sites."

"For most of the New England region, European settlement occurred largely during the 18th century. Through forest clearing, hunting, and trapping, the abundance of many species changed rapidly and the wilderness was gradually transformed into a domesticated rural landscape."

"The peak of deforestation and agricultural activity across most of New England occurred from 1830 to 1880. Across much of New England, 60 to 80 percent of the land was cleared for pasture, tillage, orchards and buildings. Small remaining areas of woodland were subjected to frequent cuttings for lumber and fuel."

"Beginning in the mid-1800s and continuing for more than a century, farming declined on a broad scale across New England."

It is clear that the reservoirs and aqueducts weren't carved out of the wilderness; the wilderness grew around the reservoirs and aqueducts! Next installment will reveal who did the planting and why they did it.

NOTE: A book with images of the dioramas, New England Forests
Through Time: Insights from the Harvard Forest Dioramas,
includes a detailed explanation of our region's forest history. I own it, and love it. It is availabe at the site or at any bookstore.


  1. Interesting.
    As for southern New England I was under the impression it was mostly fields and the forest trees came later. It appears I am wrong.
    Most, if not all of the trees are 2nd and 3rd generations and not virgin forest.

  2. You're right that fields preceded forests, but the original forests (pre-Europeans) were cut down to make the fields!

    You are also right about the trees being young around here. With the possible exception of a few isolated patches on Wachusetts, there are no old growth forests left in Massachusetts.

  3. now, that's some serious investigating. waiting for part 2 impatiently.

  4. Part two IS better, metrowest! It will be posted this weekend, if all goes well. Thanks for reading!

  5. Oooh, so exciting to hear the first installment of the plantation mystery!

  6. Fascinating! Thanks for posting.

    BTW why is your web page refreshing itself every three seconds?


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